Bears look to defend league title |

Bears look to defend league title

Jon Mitchell
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

RIFLE, Colorado – Damon Wells still has a book that his players bought him a few years back called “Anxiety and Depression for Dummies.”

“That’s me,” the veteran coach of the Rifle High School football team said with a big smile on his face. “I’m scared to death every Friday night. I always just hope that we as a coaching staff said the right things, the players took them to heart and we get them to execute.”

Although all those nerves and jitters will probably never go away for Wells, his players proved they had the execution thing down last season. And the type of performances the Bears put out in 2011, along with a bevy of returning starters on the roster this season, might have the rest of the Class 3A Western Slope League a little anxious, too.

Rifle feels it has plenty to improve on for the upcoming 2012 season, which begins at 7 p.m. Friday with the Bears’ season opener at Coal Ridge.

“Some teams, when they’ve had a good season like we did, they think they have it made and feel they don’t need to work hard in the offseason,” senior running back and safety Ryan Moeller said. “That hasn’t been the case with us. We’ve been working real hard, and we know we can’t slack off.”

There weren’t many depressing moments last year for the Bears, who won the Class 3A Western Slope League title and ran the table on their 10-game regular-season schedule before losing, 36-15, to eventual state champion Windsor in the 3A quarterfinals.

The Bears return seven starters on offense and defense from that team this season, and an influx of interest in the program has only added to the depth chart behind them.

“We have easily doubled the amount of kids who have come out in the past four years alone,” Wells said. “We’re in a good spot right now. We really are.”

One of the biggest advantages is the return of Moeller, who led all Colorado running backs with 2,469 rushing yards to go with 22 touchdowns. He shared the load with graduated senior Brandon Kittle, whose 1,254 rushing yards was ranked ninth in Class 3A.

The loss of Kittle to graduation immediately puts more pressure on the shoulders of Moeller, who isn’t quite ready to reference the book on Wells’ bookshelf.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone who is irreplaceable,” Moeller said. “Everyone we’ve found to replace someone who has left has been a fit there for a reason, and everyone has intangibles which help make us better.”

The Bears averaged 356.5 rushing yards per game a year ago, but Wells said there will be more of an emphasis placed on throwing the football this season. He liked what he saw in a scrimmage last week from quarterback Adam Rice, who last season finished 27-for-62 passing for 402 yards and three TDs.

“We have most of our offensive line returning, so everybody is going to know what to do there,” said Rice, an All-Western Slope League honorable mention in 2011. “And overall, we have a lot of returning starters, so everybody is going to know what their job is and everybody is going to be real comfortable on both offense and defense.”

Aaron Wagler, a senior wide receiver, returns as the Bears’ leading pass catcher from a year ago.

Defensively, Rifle allowed just 15.6 points per game, including a shutout of Class 2A power Olathe in the third week of the season. The Bears return a pair of all-league honorable mentions in junior outside linebacker Javier Nunez and junior defensive end Zach Bare.

Of course, as much as many remember what Rifle did a year ago, the Bears are trying their best to put it behind them. And with the experience his team brings into the 2012 season, Wells feels he might not have to reference that book in his office too often.

“This is the most experienced group of kids I can remember having,” the coach said. “There’s no doubt people will remember what we did, and that just makes it tougher for our kids. It’s something we readily acknowledge. Fortunately … we have a lot of experience, and we hope to draw off that.”

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